OUR GREAT MINDS

    by Ghada Al Atrash

    The Leaders In Innovative Education

    Nelson Mandela says, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

    Let’s take a moment here and reflect on the weight of the responsibility that lies on the shoulders of our educators within this context.

    Heavy, Isn’t It?

    Especially when it comes to oil and gas, how it is the driving force for the world economy, and whose supply and demand drives life and death in both a metaphorical and literal sense, the importance of educators and their role in producing good leaders in this field becomes that much more crucial!

    I happened to have a thought-provoking conversation with one of those educators, Professor Harvey Yarranton of the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering.  I asked him about what role an educational institution plays in graduating thought leaders in our world, and he replied,  “I think all schools aim to train their students to become critical thinkers as opposed to plugging in numbers and following procedures.  We try to teach how the things we do might impact societies, economies, environments, and the whole bit—quite a challenging task to be accomplished in four years of an undergraduate program considering all of the technical components to be covered as well.”

    “How much do we, professors, have to do with our future thought leaders? I would put it this way—we try and give our students the means to realize their potential.  When they do have potential, then they are like sponges—they soak up everything to become truly incredible people.  So perhaps what it really comes down to is which schools are providing the best environments for students to access all of what they need in order to reach their full potential.”

    Carmen Goss, president of Prominent Personnel (a Calgary-based company that places mid-to high-level executive professionals in the oil and gas industry) adds, “I see thought leaders as the combination of education and what one is capable of doing.  It’s about forward thinking and the desire to push ahead for a better way of being while making an active contribution to the community.”

    The obvious question is:  Which technology and innovation schools are producing our thought leaders in the world of energy today?

    In an effort to elicit a fair cross section of opinions, I first posed this question to three executives in the U.S. who have board global experience and who happen to be respected professionals in their own right:  Steve Voss (managing director of Global Energy Development and a Texas A&M-educated petroleum engineer with an MBA from Harvard), Rich Cottle (a Colorado-educated mechanical engineer  and senior consulting engineer for BWI Inc.), and Kris Hartman (a Texas-educated geologist presently consulting at HKN, Inc.).

    According to all three, the number one pick was Texas A&M, followed by Colorado School of Mines, Stanford, and Penn State.  Other schools mentioned were MIT, University of Texas, Louisiana State University, Rice University, the University of Houston, and California Institute of Technology—all a given. One executive went on to say that he considered The Petroleum Institute of Abu Dhabi to be worthy of mention within this context.

    Professor Yarranton agrees with this list of names, but also highlights an important factor, “You have to keep in mind the number of years those schools have been around. The number of graduates establishing and spreading their reputation along the years plays an important role in the perception of each school.”  He reminds us, “The University of Calgary, for example, is a relatively young school established in the 1960s, whereas Texas A&M was established in the late 1800s.”

    When it comes to technologies and innovations emerging from educational institutions, the department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Calgary deserves a shout out.   Dr. Yarranton states with great pride, “Our department has spawned a number of companies that have played fairly significant roles in the oil and gas industry.  Examples are:  HyperTech (developed HYSIS software), NeoTech (for multiphase flow), Hycal (PVT Service Company), CMG (computer modeling group for reservoir simulation), amongst others.”

    “Also, much of the multi-phase flow work for oil industry applications was started here, and much of the work related to SAGD technology and fluid property data for heavy oils and bitumens is associated with our department.”  With a smile, he adds, “I’m sure Texas A&M and other institutions have their own lists to share as well.”

    On a Canadian level, he says, “Within my expertise in the oil and gas field specifically, and while trying to keep out my personal bias, I would say the University of Alberta in Edmonton is top in oil sands, whereas the University of Calgary is probably the top when it comes to the in situ area of heavy and crude oil and bitumen.”

    He agrees that when it comes to world rankings, Texas A&M is usually the first on the list, but adds, “I would say for heavy oil (unconventional) the focus would be mostly up in Canada, whereas conventional and shale oil and gas are more developed in the States.”

    On an international level, honorable mentions are IFP in France, Delft in Holland, Imperial College in London, NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) in Norway, and China University of Petroleum.

    At the end of the day, it’s all good. Young students have numerous excellent options to realize their potential. And to those students I say: Seize the energy challenge!

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